By Teresa M. Walker/The Associated Press
NASHVILLE — Houston Nutt put his arms on his hips and crossed them, going back and forth. While assistants yelled at players, the Ole Miss coach had a frown on his face.
Nutt failed to help his job security Saturday in a 30-7 loss to Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
Ole Miss dropped its eighth straight SEC opener and fell to 1-2, not the start the Rebels and Nutt were hoping for. Since Nutt began his stint at Ole Miss with consecutive 9-4 seasons and back-to-back Cotton Bowl victories, the Rebels are 5-10 over the last two seasons leading to speculation about Nutt’s future.
“I’m just real disappointed, very disappointed because I know we’re better than that,” a dejected Nutt said.
Scoreless midway through the second quarter, the Rebels allowed Vanderbilt to pull away with 21 points inside the final six minutes before halftime. The Commodores (3-0) now have won five of the last seven games in this series.
The Rebels looked far from sharp with five turnovers, six penalties and a bevy of missed tackles.
Starting quarterback Zack Stoudt was intercepted five times, twice by Trey Wilson, who returned one pick 52 yards for a touchdown. Nutt used Randall Mackey most of the third quarter before bringing Stoudt back in the fourth, when the junior was picked off twice more. Barry Brunetti never got into the game, while Stoudt was 13 of 26 for 139 yards and Mackey was 2 of 4 for 10 yards.
The Rebels showed a lack of discipline with four false start penalties by three different offensive linemen. Center A.J. Hawkins also sailed a snap high over Mackey’s head early in the third quarter, leading to a safety when Jeff Scott kicked it through the end zone.
Nutt said he was most disappointed in the offense after a good week of practice. He even got senior running back Brandon Bolden back from a hairline fracture in his left ankle in the opening loss to BYU. Bolden ran eight times for 39 yards, though not nearly enough.
“We could never get anything in synch, could never get anything going offensively,” Nutt said. “That’s what was frustrating. Just looked bad, looked really bad.”
For the Commodores, it’s their biggest margin of victory in an SEC game since beating Mississippi State 49-19 in 1971 for a program that hadn’t led an SEC opponent by at least 21 points since Oct. 2, 2004, against Mississippi State. James Franklin also became the first Vandy coach to win his SEC opener since Ray Morrison beat Mississippi State in 1935 — three years after the SEC was founded.
Franklin got emotional as he spoke of how this win is for his players and coaches who have worked hard to improve.
“We are really, really proud of these kids,” Franklin said as tears ran down his cheeks. “That win is for our loyal fans that have showed up here for a long time, looking for something to believe in. So I’m just really proud. I don’t know what the stats are. I don’t really know what the score is, but it is a win.”
Vanderbilt won only two games in each of the past two seasons, and this marks Vanderbilt’s first 3-0 start since 2008 when the Commodores won their first bowl since 1955. Franklin is the first Vandy coach to start 3-0 since World War II.
Vanderbilt outgained Ole Miss 387-234 in total offense. Jerron Seymour’s 9-yard TD run capped the second-quarter scoring for Vandy, and Zac Stacy also ran for 169 yards, including a 77-yard TD run.
“We were pressing too hard, trying to make too much happen,” said Stoudt, who did toss a 47-yard TD to Donte Moncrief to avoid a shutout.
After another Ole Miss three-and-out, Seymour pushed his way in to finish off a 9-yard TD and a 21-0 lead that had Commodores’ fans celebrating a rare early lead.
The Commodores picked up the scoring early in the third when a bad snap went over Stoudt’s head on the opening series. Jeff Scott kicked it through the end zone for a safety and a 23-0 lead. The rout could have been worse. Stacy tried to throw to Larry Smith in the end zone only to be picked off by Marcus Temple after the safety.
Read more in the NEMS Daily Journal Sunday.